Expanding the IFL's presence in the western region of the United States was a primary focus for the league heading into the 2020 season.
Since the season ended this summer, the IFL added two teams: The Duke City Gladiators from Albuquerque and, on Tuesday, the Oakland Panthers. The IFL now has 12 teams and counting.
"We were given instructions as an expansion committee to grow the west and that's what we've been working on over the last year," said Kevin Guy, the Tucson Sugar Skulls co-owner and member of the IFL expansion committee. "More teams will be announced in the next week and that's where all of our focus has been. ... A lot of people are spending money on entertainment right now so it's a good time to grow."
Oakland Arena, formerly known as Oracle Arena, will serve as the home venue for the Panthers. And Oakland's favorite son, former NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch, will be the co-owner of the team.
"I believe the power of football has the ability to transform a community and the families who live there. I've seen it and lived it. I'm excited that Da' Town will get another team to call its own. I attended some Indoor Football games last year and had a good-ass time," Lynch said in a press release.
The Oakland Panthers' nickname pays tribute to the Black Panther movement from the 1960's, and blockbuster Marvel film "The Black Panther" in honor of Oakland native Ryan Coogler being the director of the movie.
Adding a professional indoor football team to Oakland also comes at a much-needed time. The NFL's Raiders are bolting to Las Vegas next season.
"There's a lot of history and tradition in that city with football," Guy said. "I think it's going to be a natural fit for these guys. With the Raiders going to Vegas and the Golden State Warriors moving out and going to San Francisco, this is a great time for us to be the main tenant in that building."
The IFL now has four teams on the West Coast, which will limit repetitive matchups and reduce the cost of travel. In the Sugar Skulls' 14-game season, eight of the matchups were against the Arizona Rattlers and San Diego Strike Force.
"Ideally you don't want to play someone four times. ... Like any league you're in, travel plays a big part in it. We had to build some teams. For us to travel to the midwest, there's a cost to that. This is a business and we need to watch our costs," Guy said.
The Sugar Skulls were the guinea pigs for the IFL this season to see how the brand of eight-man, indoor football would work in a west-coast city. The other IFL teams are in North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Before the addition of Oakland and Duke City, Tucson now has four opponents, which will be six by the end of the month. The Sugar Skulls drew more than 5,000 fans in two games this season, which was the home opener and regular season finale. After finishing the season 7-7, Tucson became the first team in IFL history to make the playoffs.
"I think people took a good look at us and realized there's some passion for football out here," Sugar Skulls president Jay Gonzales said. "We're excited that we have some teams in our region and hopefully we can build some rivalries with them."